In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the titular character (played by Johnny Depp) indulges in a bloody massacre. There’s reason for it: He’s lost his mind! It doesn’t happen all at once though, as there is originally a reason he begins killing people. He starts out with a target, one Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman). We see in a flashback that the honorable one wrongfully arrests Mr. Todd with the intent of stealing his wife after jailing our protagonist.
The thing about jail is that it doesn’t last forever. We arrive back in London, 15 years after this travesty took place. Sweeney Todd is back and wants revenge on this judge. He goes to his former place of dwelling to find a woman named Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) residing there. She owns a meat shop that doesn’t have any meat. Meat’s expensive after all. He opens up a barber shop above the meat shop, hoping that one day, the judge will come for a shave. The plan is to murder him.
The plan goes awry when another barber comes up to the shop and recognizes Todd from 15 years prior. This man acts like an Italian, but when in Todd’s private quarters, we find out he’s native to London. In a surprising turn, this man is played by Sacha Baron Cohen, but it is a short lived role. Todd disposes of the man and then the story takes an interesting turn. Since meat’s expensive, why doesn’t Mrs. Lovett use them eat from the deceased barber’s body? And what if other people turn up to get a shave? What about using their bodies for meat too? And all the while, await the judge? It’s not the least logical plan I’ve ever heard.
This is more or less how most of the film goes. There’s also a subplot that involves a man named Anthony (Jamie Cambpell Bower) and the judge’s ward, Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Johanna is Todd’s daughter, so he assists Anthony in attempting to break her out. And since that will also put a crinkle in the life of Turpin, well, all the better then. Unfortunately, this subplot is underdeveloped and only serves as padding to the main story. I don’t support removing it, because it’s a good story and it definitely needs including, but I would have liked even more from it.
The main story is a simple one, but it’s well-told and kept me engaged. There are a couple of big twists — one of which you’ll probably see coming but leaves an impact regardless — and it’s well-paced and not difficult to follow along with. That’s pretty much all you want in a story like the one found here, because there’s nothing to complain about and nothing to keep you from sitting back and enjoying the experience.
And what an experience it ends up being. From the film’s opening moments, it draws you in. The opening scene, before we even meet any of our actors appear, is mostly CGI, but it sets the mood. Right off the get-go, we want to know more about the world that director Tim Burton crafts for us. Of course, we expect it to be weird, given the director. And it is, but never weird enough to make it seem surreal. This is a balancing act that is hard to pull off, but Burton does.
I should probably mention that Sweeny Todd is a musical, although to be honest, that shouldn’t affect whether or not you should see it, but if you absolutely cannot stand musicals, then I’ve at least forewarned you of that. However, I would implore you to see this anyway, because it is absolutely worth your time.
Speaking of the music, in a film like this, you have to make note of how well the actors did with their singing. They did fine. I’m not a music critic, but I could easily listen to the actors all day long. They all did their own singing too, which is nice because a lot of films dub over their actors with trained singers. Hearing the actual voices of our actors is refreshing, and since they all do a fine job, there’s nothing troubling about doing this. Oh, and also unlike many other films, the synchronizing of the sound and the lips of the actors matches up almost perfectly.
Sweeney Todd is not without its detractors though. Even though it creates a great atmosphere that almost instantly draws us in, we’re removed from the film at differing moments whenever obscene amounts of blood spray from the necks of Todd’s victims. The blood is laughable, and it made me sad that what was otherwise an almost perfect film would have such laughable blood effects. There is also one song in the middle of the film that made no sense to me, where Todd and Mrs. Lovett discuss the meat they will obtain, noting how the professions of the individual will alter the taste of the meat. As far as I know, that’s not how it works, and this song, while clever in relating personality clichés to flavor, fails to serve a true point. (This film is based on a play of the same title though, and I feel this criticism should be levied at the original play and not on the film itself. But then again, other songs from the play were left out, so it easily could have happened with this song in particular.)
Sweeney Todd is, in short, a great film. The way it’s set-up, crafted, presented and acted is all amazing. This is a film that draws you in from the opening sequence, and holds your attention until the credits role. And absolute wonder to behold and listen to, thanks to actors who are also talented singers. Unfortunately, the excessive gore does detract from the otherwise serious nature of the murders within. Give Sweeney Todd a watch, as it is well worth your time.
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